Here's another thorny issue! A rather heated debate has been raging on the private Art Dolls Only forum on the subject of Copying, it's an issue guaranteed to raise hackles and get people going and I am currently trying to write it up as an article for our latest project, "Much ADO", an online E-zine which will launch in September (fingers crossed, there are a LOT of plates to keep spinning - watch this space!). The article will be about when inspiration becomes imitation with regard to creating Art Dolls specifically, and the even thornier subject of downright copyright theft.
My topic here is at a slight tangent - today I came across a polite emailed enquiry from someone who wanted to use my doll photographs on flickr as inspiration for their work. I don't know if they meant my recently posted BJD pics or those of my art dolls but I politely (I hope) declined to give my permission, as I always do, because my dolls, the way I paint them and style them, are an extension of my own creativity, they feed off each other... this is all MY work. So, you ask, am I not inspired by everything I see and hear and touch? Of course, but I would never consider actually basing my work directly on someone else's... errrr... Well, OK, I am currently working on a Mad Hatter/Johnny Depp doll but that, if I ever finish it, will be a very obvious and stated "homage" to the work of the art department who worked on that film should it ever be for sale, because you should always reference your sources, surely?
This got me thinking about Mijn Schatje and the whole furore over her artwork ( http://youthoughtwewouldntnotice.com/blog3/?p=3253 ). There is very little room for doubting that Miss Schatje (I forget her real name) used a lot of uncredited photographer's work - without seeking permission - and then lying about it when called out, as the basis of her very lucrative illustrations. Were it just for the images referenced on the link I posted above, there might room for thinking it was an unfortunate coincidence but follow this link: http://everytomorrow.net/mijn/ and doubts fall by the wayside, there are just too many direct copies of BJD owner's personal photographs. Some people snottily claim that by putting their pics on Flickr and other website the photographer has entered the Public Domain and given away their rights, but there are many different usage and rights protections on Flickr alone, and most of the photographers in question marked their images as All Rights Reserved. Mijn Schatje still flatly refuses to admit that she has infringed a lot of people's copyright and abused the artistic ability and creativity of others as the basis of her career as an illustrator. Is she afraid that she can only trace and that she has no basic drawing ability to back it up was it never truly an ability she had or is she lazy? It's something I worry about too, I know I HAD that ability, but am I in danger of losing it as deadlines become faster and faster and my time with a sketch pad and pencil get more and more pressured?
I, too, have illustrator and photoshop on my Mac, and I'm not afraid to use them! The issue here isn't tracing from photographs, even the Old Masters weren't averse to a spot of tracing, although the inception of photography made it a whole lot easier. We are so used to how the camera sees the world and we sometimes prefer it to the evidence of our own eyes. Art Director's commissioning work love the "vector pic traced from a photo", look right now (you get sucked into it if you want to get the commission) and Mijn Schatje has earned a lot of money by doing just that (while claiming she didn't, of course), but there would be no problem at all had she taken the photographs herself. Preferably of dolls she had styled and posed herself. Unlike a lot of people, She cannot even claim that she can't afford a few BJDs!
Hmmmmm, Ok, I have The Mighty Boosh pic in my folio and for sale in my etsy shop, isn't that the same? I was initially approached to do it as a commissioned illustration by a magazine, they were going to send me reference material. That fell through and so I found my own but I have always been aware of the fact that the two main images come directly from someone else's photographs. The other elements are from watching the DVD and so directly from my own head if you like (except, didn't someone else choose those camera angles and edited what I could see! Opening a can of worms!!!). As I worked all of the elements got combined and morphed into something creative that doesn't directly relate to the source photographs that much anymore, so isn't that OK? I think in this case it is, hope it is, obviously or I wouldn't have put it in the shop... but don't be fooled by those persistent voices on forums who bleat on about a magical percentage that an artist can change a work and not get sued. B*ll*cks! When I decided to sell copies of that image, despite the fact those photographs are in the public domain, I did seek permission from the photographer and eventually decided that no answer meant not worried. I don't pretend to understand the legalities, whether I have crossed a line or not... I just draw stuff!!! (just not as often as I should anymore)... but pleading ignorance doesn't always wash if you want people to pay you for the results.
Creativity is about making decisions (sorry, I know I should say something more airy fairy, but this is the mundane truth: We may do it intuitively, all touchy feely right brain centric, but one day someone will come up with a complicated formula for it, all that flutters and is magical gets pinned down eventually!) lots of tiny decisions that hopefully add up to a striking image. Forget art doll's for a moment, Let's take BJD's as an example: Somewhere in, say, Korea, a sculptor worked long and hard on creating a beautiful doll to be sold and customized by people all over the world. Someone buys that doll, paints it's face by hand, chooses it's wig and eyes and style of clothing and creates a personality for that doll - try putting "Luts Lishe" into a search on Flickr and see the amazing variety of looks that one, very popular, sculpt has been used to create, for example. This doll owner now wants to photograph their labour of love and chooses a darkly lit room near some drapery, the merest hint of lush vegetation through a half open window. The dolls face is sculpted still further by the way the light falls across it and the play of deep shadows. The doll's owner loves the resulting images and decides to crop them further, finally happy, they upload it to Flickr.... where lot's of people get to see it. It is no longer just the creation of that original sculptor somewhere in Korea, but also of the person who customised it and took those photos.
A budding illustrator or artist sees the image and feels the creative juices flowing, what should happen now is that they are inspired by some quality in that image to go away and create something for themselves. Not a slavish copy, definitely not by tracing over someone else's image, but something that was sparked off by seeing the image on Flickr, maybe it won't even feature a doll, maybe it will. That's inspiration. You may refer back to that photo, but you may also forget all about it as you become engrossed in a whole series of other little decisions that come along when you try to create your own image. I have scrapbooks full of inspiring photos and illustrations collected over the years and hardly ever look through them because those images have all seeped into my subconscious and are happily morphing and melting into one another and being spat out anew in odd and unforseen ways. If you find yourself wanting to approach someone and ask if you can base your work on photographs they have taken of their silent sculpted resin muse, however loosely you intend to do it, well, you're trying to cut out a whole load of those decisions and jump the creative queue.... just make or buy yourself a doll... and start from scratch!